This week I was called to a focus group meeting at the Armenian Community Center in Toronto, for the improvement of the Armenian Language curriculum at the ARS School. It was a follow-up to the general meeting we had on March 5. (For that first seminar see my monologue dated March 10 and titled “A Seminar for ARS School).
The meeting was attended by some of the members of the School Board (Board), members of the Strategic Planning Focus Group, (who were the organizers of the meetings), the two principals of the school, and most of the Armenian curriculum teachers, and few parents. It would have been better if more parents attended the meeting and voiced their concerns and opinions. The sole agenda was, “What should the Armenian curriculum focus on, and what are the most important things we need to accomplish over the next 5 years”. (There will be one, and if necessary two, follow-up meetings to conclude these consultations).
I took this opportunity to write this monologue about the use of the Armenian language in Canada, and the USA, in general, and not within the Armenian school system, which I consider it to be the responsibility of the school administration, especially with the cooperation of the parents. If these well-prepared meetings are of any indication, the Board is more than willing to listen to the concerns of the parents, and supporters of the school.
The use and the enhancement of the Armenian language in Canada, and the USA, seldom pass beyond the well-intended lamentations by the “old-timers”. Most of the time, they wrongly blame the new generation, especially the young parents, for not learning and using the Armenian Language in their homes. Moreover, they expect the solution to come from the Armenian schools that are attended by a very minor portion (between 2 to 5 %?) of the total of the Armenian students who attend the local public schools.
So far we have not been able to use the huge potential of the internet to teach the Armenian language, especially, the Conversational Armenian Language, to the vast majority of the young children, and their young parents, who do not have the opportunity, or, financially cannot afford to send their children to the Armenian Schools.
Fortunately, there are some good initiatives. AGBU (Բարեգործական) has the Armenian Virtual College (AVC). An online Armenian Language and History program for those, who have the need to learn the Armenian Language and History, and dedicate their time and efforts to learn it. In short, it is an excellent online Armenian School that is available worldwide and very affordable too.
AGBU also started “Gus on the Go”. An online Armenian language learning apps program for English-speaking young children, and their young parents, to learn the Conversational Armenian Language together and have fun too. Needless to say, both programs need to be extensively promoted by the Armenian news media, especially online Armenian news media.
Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon also seems to be in the process of enhancing and promoting the use of the Armenian Language in the Armenian Diaspora(s) as well. They organized two seminars, one in Paris, and one in Lisbon, and participated also in the ones organized by the Ministry of Diaspora in Yerevan. They also participated in the one organized by the Hrant Dink Foundation in Istanbul. Wonderful initiatives that hopefully, will yield some tangible results, especially, if they develop a much-needed teacher training program for Armenian Language teachers.
First and foremost a language is a communication tool and could only survive by using it. The occasions to use the Armenian Language in Armenian Diaspora(s) is fairly limited. At best it could be partially used in bilingual homes, family gatherings, community events, church ceremonies, etc. Our efforts should be to prepare and promote an online Armenian Conversational Language (ACL) program for the Diaspora-born young generation that is fun to learn and could be used during the above-mentioned occasions.
The vocabulary and the phraseology of the program could be based on no more than 500 to 1000 commonly used Armenian words. The “market” of these programs is huge, (relatively speaking), for the English-speaking generation in Canada, the USA, and anywhere in the world where there are English-speaking Armenians who want to learn “a little bit” of Armenian. The cost might be a tiny fraction of what we spend for the Armenian schools and reach much, and much more, “students” as well. The English program also could be a template for French, or other languages, that are spoken in the Armenian Diaspora(s).
Maybe I might be considered naive by those who think that Armenian Diaspora(s) are doomed, and on a life support system that is no more than an excuse for doing nothing. For those Armenian Language worshipers, and glorifiers, a mere 500 to 1000 Armenian words to learn the Armenian Language might sound blasphemous for our much-celebrated Մեծասքանչ, Մեսրոպաշունչ, Սրբատառ, Երկաթագիր, “Թէ մօրդ անգամ մտից հանես” etc.
I think they are just daydreaming about the survivor of the Western Armenian Language in Diaspora(s) the way it was in the “good old days” in the once-thriving Armenian communities in the Middle East. It is equally wishful thinking, to expect the current Armenian Schools in Canada and USA, to teach the Armenian Language in”good old ways” as well. The “old dreams” must be pursued by new means and the internet is one of the best mediums that could be utilized for this purpose.
I got carried on and hardly talked about the preservation of the Armenian identity in Diaspora(s) as the title of this monologue suggests. The preservation of the Armenian identity in Diaspora(s) is much more than the preservation and use of the Armenian language. Needless to say, the Armenian Language is one of the most important pillars, if not the most important pillar, of the preservation of the Armenian identity, the others are, the Armenian Culture and Traditions. For that, maybe at another time.
Zohrab Bebo Sarkissian.